Buying the farm: Investors may save beloved Slope health-food store, owner says

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This declining health-food store is not dead yet!

Angel investors may step in to save a Park Slope emporium of feel-good fare following news that the shop would close imminently after nearly half a century in business, according to its owner.

Back to the Land proprietor David Basham said more than one person expressed interest in saving the store known for its aisles of fruits, veggies, and supplements, including a longtime customer of the retailer at 142 Seventh Ave.

“I’m getting calls from people, investors,” he said. “Somebody who’s a longtime customer has been looking for an investment.”

But if he can’t collect the necessary cash at the 11th hour, Basham said bidding farewell to the neighborhood won’t be too hard because his decades there brought him nothing but good times.

“We want to tell everyone who’s been part of this experience over the years that we offer our gratitude and love to them for everything we went through together,” he said.

The store — which Basham bought an ownership stake in years after its original founder opened it in 1971 — struggled to turn a profit as the increasingly bougie neighborhood’s rents continued to rise, he said. And customers’ desires to cook less, eat out more, and buy groceries online didn’t help its bottom line, according to the owner.

In 2016, Basham streamlined operations as Back to the Land’s sales declined, hoping business would take a turn for the better the following year — but it never did.

“Toward the end of 2016 and into 2017, it just became too much,” he said. “We all said, ‘What happened to all the people in Park Slope? Were did all the foot traffic go?’ ”

Good-for-you grocers may now be a dime a dozen in the so-called progressive neighborhood, but back when founder Virginia Michael opened Back to the Land, the store stood out among the less virtuous establishments that populated Park Slope at the time, according to Basham, who started working there in 1981.

“This was a neighborhood of Irish bars, it was an incredibly rowdy scene of drunken abandonment every weekend night, and people would be walking by here, sticking their head in the door, saying ‘What the f--- is this?’ ” he said.

A growing community of artists and proto-hipsters sought out the shop’s supplements and untainted foods, however, supporting the business for decades before the healthy-eating craze really took off in the late 90s, Basham said.

“It was mostly hippies interested in this kind of thing,” he said. “This was a very interesting creative area at that time, and people were looking for an alternative to the mainstream everything.”

And regardless of Back to the Land’s fate, Basham will always remember those customers fondly, and harbors no hard feelings toward them for taking their business elsewhere.

“I’m not going to chastise the neighborhood for not supporting the store, which is what some people do,” said Basham. “It’s more like thanks for the memories more than anything else.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:45 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Peter Engel from Fort Greene says:
Editor: 1971 is nearly half a century, not half a decade. A correction to Mr. Mixson's piece would be appreciated.

With the Food Coop expansion, Whole Foods and other options, I am not surprised that Back To The Land struggles. Though I have always found them a bit pricey, I do hope they make it.
April 27, 2018, 9:04 am
Bellamellio from Park Slope says:
I imagine the Park Slope Food Coop, the Whole Foods on 3rd & 3rd and the 365 on Flatbush by Ashland hasn’t helped. Plus, there wasn’t much variety in BTTL, IMO.
April 27, 2018, 10:06 am
Charmegne from Bk says:
If they want to stay relevant they could re-open as an Uber store. Or be more like - you know, be on the internet.
April 27, 2018, 10:14 am
Old Timer from Park Slope says:
Nice that the editor let so many mistakes and insults slip through. 1971 is almost a half a century ago, not half a decade ago.

. . . the store stood out among the less virtuous establishments that populated Park Slope at the time, according to Basham, who started working there in 1981.

“This was a neighborhood of Irish bars, it was an incredibly rowdy scene of drunken abandonment every weekend night, and people would be walking by here, sticking their head in the door, saying ‘What the f--- is this?’ ” he said.

No other ethnic group could be labeled in such a negative way as the Irish are labeled in this article! Where is that editor?

Park Slope was fine before Back to the Land and the Real Estate offices got here!! I'll take that Park Slope any day! I lived here, and I remember the stores that were there before Back to the Land opened in one store -- and then spread to three. Working people could live here -- now it's all people who practice "economic segregation" to keep "the other" out.

Look at all the signs that say refugees welcome here -- but, where are those refugees? Not in Park Slope 'cause they afford to live here -- and they sure as heck can't shop at Back to the Land!

Don't let the door hit your back on the way out!
April 27, 2018, 2:25 pm
SCR from Realityville says:
How about a more no-frills,conventional supermarkets,instead of fewer;across our city? I'm referring to food stores,such as Key Food,Stop&Shop;or Shoprite. Gourmet shops,health food shop,bodega,7-11 Eleven;Whole Foods,TraderJoes-are far TOO expensive. At least,for all those,are do NOT having a considerable Discretionary Income. Over the past few years,the poorer humankinds of our city,now get stuck paying substantially;for food-as well as rent. What I find,especially infuriating,that due to ever more conventional supermarket closures;
the poor are often compelled,to pay more than the rich-for everyday groceries.
April 27, 2018, 6:50 pm
Ms. Me from Bay Ridge says:
How many more "beloved" going out of business establishments is this paper going to write about? If they were really "beloved" they would not be closing up. As for Mr. Basham,apparently his ancestry is English - "Last name: Basham. This interesting name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is an East Anglian locational surname deriving from either of the places called "Barsham" in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk" -- a people known the world over for their drunken behavior as tourists.
April 27, 2018, 9:14 pm
Ms.Mw from Bay Ridge says:
I feel sorry for you.You are sick.
April 28, 2018, 6:21 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Most businesses have a life cycle, and sadly we are witnessing the end of a long standing health food store. The neighborhood is changing, again, as it did when Back to the Land openned in the 70s. A great store for the community, and a million times more decent than the drinking estabilishments, which aided in missery while Back to the Land aided health and happiness.
April 28, 2018, 7:22 am
Fred from Cobble Hill says:
A relic of simpler times, however it would be interesting to do a cost comparison between rivals. If organic is relegated to the margins, its impact will be marginal.
April 29, 2018, 8:17 am
Frederik Von Humplington says:
Another victim of the Brooklyn Barbeque trend that’s sweeping the nation - people want unhealthy, not healthy now.
April 30, 2018, 7:53 am
Jason from Williamsburg says:
Trader Joe's is affordable,though uses lots of plastic packaging. Wholefoods generic 365 brand is affordable.
April 30, 2018, 8:33 am
Jose Franco from Park Slope says:
The paradox of supporting local business and self interest has reared it’s ugly head again. should I order the almond butter online or buy it at a small shop on 7th ave for 15% more? shops like Back To The Land, Sun In Bloom (both recently closed in Park Slope Brooklyn) are created to bring healthy food options to the community. The food industry is highly saturated and underutilized shelf space or running under capacity is probably why so many well intended food concepts go out of business. What can we do? We must be conscious of the shopping experience we encourage with our purchases and understand the cost associated with maintaining the “Main St” shopping experience. All businesses within time, may work better, worse, cease to work or change. We are our own best friends and worst enemies. Imagine starting a new business in an industry you know little about. You take what you do know, spend a year researching and working in food service, and then open your own shop. You add human capital, sweat equity and research and wait patiently for the seeds you’ve planted in your business to grow. You wait for a whole year, and nothing happens. The second year you continue to water it and fertilize it, but still you’re not breaking even. Looks like somebody is testing your patience. The third year the same story repeats itself. By now, most people would have given up. Some are lucky enough to make a profit. Hooray! When this happens, we mustn’t let our ego’s become a controlling factor in the way we act and make decisions. So don’t tell yourself a story. The stories we tell ourselves are just labels that put us at odds not just with reality, but with the real strategy that made us successful in the first place. From that place, we might think that success in the future is just the natural next part of the story—when really it’s rooted in work, creativity, persistence, and luck. Who are we to judge if both Sun In Bloom and Back To The Land open up a chain of vape shops next? Successful business owners provide customers with goods that are in demand. It’s foolish not noble to continue to provide healthy food options when you can’t offer them at prices that encourages sustainable demand. Full disclosure, I'm the owner of Stoop Juice on 7th Ave.
May 2, 2018, 12:58 pm
Steve o from Park slope says:
Your customers were replaced. You have zero good will. That's why you have no business. The area is now being filled with Telephone people.they don't even walk past you . Why didn't you try to create a Brooklyn delivery business with your products and compete in cyber world. Probably pretty rich from your investments and the past. Enjoy your semi time off. You will be needed to help run the new economy.people are people. They always come home. Cyber space sucks anyway.
Sept. 26, 2018, 12:16 pm

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